One of the reasons that lockdown was never previously considered as a tool of pandemic control is that the social damage would be, quite literally, incalculable. There would be problems no one could envisage and victims no one would be able to find. Or help. When the Opposition supports the Government on any matter, there's always a conspiracy of silence because neither has an incentive to highlight the failings of an idea they both proposed. So there's no one to ask, for example, why 20,000 pupils seem to have vanished from the school roll – and what might have happened to them.
This figure is being passed around quietly in Government, as one of the unexpected side-effects of the pandemic. Lockdown slowed learning, but it also severed links with many teenagers who would have been at risk of truancy or suspension. Such pupils can often have their life turned around by a brilliant teacher, and perhaps be encouraged to finish sixth form. But when the school closes, the wider support network vanishes and each child is forced to fall back on whatever they might have at home. Some have never come back.
It always has been terrifyingly easy for pupils to go off the radar in Britain. Any parent can declare that their children are being home-schooled – and that's it. No mandatory inspections. No serious questions. When Anne Longfield was children's commissioner, she looked into this and wondered why there wasn't more fuss. She saw the range of home-schooling: there are former teachers who can do it brilliantly at home. Then others, who were getting nothing like the help they needed. Who, she asked, is looking out for them?
Officials do not know how many pupils are home-schooled, or why. No register is kept. The best guess is 75,000 pupils, a figure that surged by almost 40 per cent last year. Councils can launch an investigation if they suspect foul play and, in extremis, order that a child returns to class. But it's an exhausting process and with so many thousands of pupils off the books, there's a lot of cases to investigate.
There's a growth in illegal "schools" which offer minimal fees, discipline or education. Victor Shafiee, an Ofsted official, set out to investigate all this recently, suspecting there would be about two dozen such schools. He found closer to 700: some in dilapidated, windowless offices. He concluded that these students' chances of finding a job, or making a successful life, were heartbreakingly small.
It's amazing just how little interest there has always been in such children. They have no champions, no voice. It's easier for politicians to assume the best: that every home-schooled child is living the bourgeois dream, taught Chaucer and fed organic tofu by liberal parents. Or, perhaps, being put through their paces by a religious family.
This certainly happens: a colleague of mine at The Spectator was home-schooled – and loved it. Many families will have wanted to continue successful experiments after last year's lockdown, and this will account for a good chunk of the increase.
But this is the problem: such parents fiercely protect their right to teach their child in their own way. They have a formidable lobby group which has successfully frightened away any MP who seeks to shine a light into the black hole of home-schooling. "They attack like jackals," says one MP. "If you suggest their kids should sit exams, they'll try to destroy you," says another. Even the idea of asking parents to register children as being home-schooled is now in hibernation, I'm told. But without any scrutiny, real problems can grow.
How can we have ended up with a system where even a pupil on the at-risk register – and under a local authority protection plan – is allowed to be home-schooled? Or just stay out of the system completely? It is an open secret that schools sometimes tip disruptive pupils into this abyss, suggesting to parents that their child may be best off at home. It's illegal but, at the last count, 340 schools were suspected to be "off-rolling".
The stakes are high. Failure at school can make it hard to find (or hold down) a job: surveys of prisoners show that almost two-thirds had been excluded from school at some stage. Two in five had been permanently expelled – and these are the people most likely to be repeat offenders. Even on the crude logic of saving taxpayer's money, it ought to be worth pouring all kinds of resources into helping pupils at risk of expulsion. The cost of failure is too high.
Not least for the children themselves. A few weeks ago, the authorities in Oxfordshire published a report into the case of a 16-year-old who had been plunged into a world of drug trafficking and had been found dead in his bedroom. He had not been to school for two years – and had been failed by everyone. The report mentioned the "paramount importance of the role of schools in keeping children safe" – a point often lost during lockdown. Zoom can never look after a pupil, or offer a safe space.
The debate here is, in some ways, a tension within the Tory party. Some backbenchers, like Robert Halfon and David Johnston, have long been asking hard questions about all of this. Michael Gove devoted his education reforms to children failed by the school system. But others see home-schooling as a sacred right, and any attempt at subjecting the children to a register or exams as outrageous government overreach. It was hard to argue this case ten years ago – when total home-schooling was about a fifth of its current total. Now, it's just not possible to argue for benign neglect.
We ought to remember that, precisely because no records are kept, the figure of 20,000 school drop-outs since lockdown might be wrong. It might be a gross underestimate. That figure was after a survey taken last October, before the latest lockdown – so who knows how many came back to school after Easter. No one will be in a hurry to find out.
Ministers argue in private that for those who stay at school, the educational damage may be repaired after three years. But what to do about those who have already left, the lost children of the pandemic? It's one of the many questions that, before too long, Boris Johnson will have to confront.
- Far-left Labour activists disrupt minute’s silence for Tessa Jowell as she was Tony Blair’s ally
- PM pays tribute to London Bridge victims and heroes on anniversary of terror attack
- Abused children need immediate attention, issue of politicians can wait: Kailash Satyarthi
- Another chronicler silenced in Kashmir
- Grenfell Tower inquiry: Disabled victim housed on 18th floor denied 'human right to escape', says sister
- Kashmiri Language: We're The Culprits & We're The Victims
- CHARLES FRANCIS MARGAI AND THE SIERRA LEONE PEOPLES’ PROBLEM
- Prince Charles: We’ve found a new path to shared prosperity and security
- Prince Charles gets sense of Ireland's past, present and future during UCC visit
- Getting It Straight: When Women Realized The AIDS Crisis Was Theirs Too
- Charleston’s slavery apology just empty symbolism
- Mel Weinberg, 93, the F.B.I.’s Lure in the Abscam Sting, Dies
- Anatomy of a political moment
- It was my job, and I didn’t find him’: Stoneman Douglas resource officer remains haunted by massacre
- For these Las Vegas teens, the Route 91 Harvest festival became a life-altering event
- These are the 29 most wanted fugitives in the UK right now
- These are the 29 most wanted fugitives in Britain right now
- Al Mohler Just Had NO IDEA About All That Sexual Harassment in the SBC.
- Did L.A. police and prosecutors bungle the Bobby Kennedy assassination?
- 'It was my job, and I didn't find him': Marjory Stoneman Douglas resource officer remains haunted by massacre
There’s a conspiracy of silence among politicians about the hidden victims of lockdown have 1327 words, post on www.telegraph.co.uk at April 22, 2021. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.